SBS’ Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson has been to the village of Tebikenikora, on the main atoll of Tarawa, where villagers are fighting a daily battle against the seas.


A few countries have more to lose at Copenhagen than the tiny pacific island nation of Kiribati, which is one of three nations that are expected to disappear within 50 years thanks to rising sea levels.

For centuries the village of Tebikenikora has co-existed with the sea. But what has sustained the village for years, is now threatening to engulf it.

A storm surge last month knocked a hole in the sea wall sending villagers scrambling to protect their belongings.

“Oh yes, there is a change in the pattern in the storms that is coming, in the weather as a whole, before that we used to have dry weather,” villager Kalesi Kuruvoli said.

The broken sea wall has already forced some families to abandon their homes but finding somewhere new to live is not easy.

Tebikenikora is just one of the many villages dotted along the main island of Tarawa.

Decades of migration to this village from the outer islands has seen nearly 50,000 people squeeze on to this tiny atoll giving it a population density similar to Hong Kong, which means the villagers here have little choice but to stay put.

“It’s very difficult because this place is crowded and I can’t go to ask someone to give their place to stay. It’s very difficult to move but the final decision would be to stay because there is no place to go,” villager Lenti Rukio said.

But it is not an easy decision.

The plants that help sustain the villagers are dying because of salt water inundation and the water from the wells is no longer drinkable.

It’s a similar story throughout the islands. A subsistence economy is losing the means by which to survive and lack of money means fixing the wall is not a priority for the government.

“We are trying to mitigate all these effects but we don’t have the resources to do this…than we can afford to attend to,” Kiribati President Anote Tong said.

It’s a response which has left villagers dreaming up novel, if impractical ways to survive if and when a big wave hits.

“For me I was telling that someone give us floaters…like in the aeroplane and float around”, a villager said.

Not surprisingly the Kiribati government is not entertaining such a hopeless scenario. It is hoping countries like Australia and New Zealand will open their doors and give the people of Kiribati a new place to call home.